The 4 Month Sleep Regression, a.k.a. Losing your mind in the middle of the night

BabyDumpling turned 4 months old this weekend! Huzzah!

This is an important milestone because:

  • BabyDumpling is now able to flip over on her own! Most of the time she just does it once and then doesn’t know how to do it again on her own, so she is like a little beached whale and I have to help her turn over.
  • BabyDumpling is now babbling gibberish all the time, and has supposedly said “ma” a couple times but I’m doubtful she did it on purpose. Still, I’ll take what I can get.
  • I never thought I’d still be producing breastmilk past 3 months and yet here I am, pumping!
  • Four months is the dreaded “sleep regression” phase… more on that later.

When I first tried breastfeeding, it was the hardest, most painful thing I had ever done. After only a few days of breastfeeding, my nipples felt torn up, like they’d been through a blender. And they were torn up, I was literally bleeding. I wondered if it was ok for BabyDumpling to be drinking milk mixed with blood. It’s like, hey, I don’t have enough milk, but here, have some blood. Everything hurt against my nipples, even air. The water from taking a shower felt like razor blades. Toweling dry felt like I was raking a sheet of broken glass over my nipples. They were definitely off-limits to PapaDumpling, he wasn’t allowed to so much as breathe in their direction.

And when I “had” to give the baby formula, I cried like it was the worst thing in the world. It’s not. The fact that baby formula exists and is easily accessible to us is a godsend. When I was a baby, my parents stopped breastfeeding me after 1 month and there was no baby formula so they fed me cow’s milk. I did not like it, cried at every feeding, and threw up ALL the time. I wasn’t gaining weight until I started having solids. So, yes, maybe breastmilk is liquid gold but the fact that baby formula is an option is a good thing.

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MamaDumpling’s first weekend away from Momming

Immediately after returning from our trip in Toronto, I went to Charleston for a friend’s bachelorette party. It was my first time flying since April, which is a long hiatus for someone who is used to flying twice a week. It surprised me how familiar the airport felt, even after five months.

This time, I had to travel with all my pumping equipment, which was a good trial for when I go back to work. It was difficult, but not impossible. I pumped in nearly every airport I went through. I transited through Charlotte both ways, which had a nursing room, but I also had to pump in the small Charleston airport when my flight was canceled, which didn’t have a nursing room, so I pumped in a family restroom that had a chair. It was nice that Charlotte had a nursing room but it was so far from my gate that I developed blisters on my hands from pulling my luggage (my luggage was very heavy with all the stuff I had to lug around, including a cooler to store the breastmilk), and it was just a windowless room with two rocking chairs and a curtain around each rocking chair. Whether it was a nursing room or a restroom, it definitely felt weird changing into my pumping bra/nursing shirt and pumping in such a strange environment. I suppose no stranger than pumping in the car or anywhere else outside the home. I’ll get used to it.

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BabyDumpling’s first international trip

I can’t believe a month has passed since my last entry! I wanted to be better about chronicling all the developments in BabyDumpling’s life and our lives but when there is a lot happening, that’s when the least amount of blogging is happening.

In mid-August we took a trip to Toronto, Canada to see my parents. It was a monumental event, with baby and dog in tow. We decided to split up the drive by staying a couple nights in Montreal on the way there. We had a baby, a dog, and three adults (my husband, myself, and my mother-in-law) in the same hotel room. It could have been a disaster. Luckily, BabyDumpling was pretty good the whole trip. We were lucky that we were traveling during the summer, because for meals, we’d find a place with a street patio, park the stroller next to the table, and have DoggyDumpling under one of our chairs. It was nice that the whole family could eat together, even though DoggyDumpling was sometimes very annoying. He still gets way too excited when he sees other people, so when we were having lunch in Burlington and there were people nearby who cooed at him, he’d start standing up and tugging at his leash because he wants to run over to them and jump all over them. For all the training that we’ve given him, we haven’t managed to get him to stay calm when he meets new people.

During the drive to Montreal, and later on to Toronto, BabyDumpling slept for most of the drive and only cried when she had a poopy diaper. I was really glad that she didn’t cry needlessly, because some parents have said that their babies hate the car seat and will just scream for an entire trip. Given that it’s 10 hours on the road to Toronto, that would be hell. As far as her poopy diapers were concerned, cleaning up after her on the road was not easy but we managed pretty well. At home, we normally wash her bottom after she poops, but it’s hard to do that in a public restroom. Separate family restrooms are a godsend, by the way. GrandmaDumpling and I would go in with BabyDumpling together and if we couldn’t wipe off all the poop, GrandmaDumpling would hold her over the sink, and I would run the water and try to clean her bottom with my hands. She ended up pooping twice on the road, which is something of a record, I think.

Because we were traveling with a dog, it somewhat limited us in our travel itinerary. We spent most of our full day in Montreal just walking around the old town. We didn’t have lunch because we couldn’t take DoggyDumpling into any restaurant, even the ones that had patios.

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Having dinner in Old Montreal
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BabyDumpling watching me eat

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BabyDumpling 1 – Parents 0

In the blink of an eye, BabyDumpling’s two-month birthday has passed, and she is now 10.5 weeks old!

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BabyDumpling at her two-month photoshoot, looking unimpressed as usual

She is now a lot more aware of her surroundings, and also recognizes who is holding her. With that, comes fussiness. She is almost always fussy when PapaDumpling holds her, because he holds her the least. She is the least fussy when GrandmaDumpling holds her, who holds her the most. And I am somewhere in-between. I wish I was the one she wanted the most, but it’s not easy. During the day, I have to pump, run errands, and try to get a nap in, since I do all the night feedings. So while I do spend a lot of hours with her, those hours are mostly when she’s sleeping. If I spend an hour holding her during the day, that’s one less hour for me to do something else. We’ve just bought a house, so there are a lot of errands to run in preparation for the closing. Sometimes, I want to make dinner, or go buy some groceries, or just have an hour to myself and watch Game of Throne re-runs. So I’ve accepted that I will take advantage of the time while GrandmaDumpling is with us to do all those other things, and she can spend more time with BabyDumpling during the day.

BabyDumpling’s also gotten more fussy ever since we tried the Cry It Out sleep training method. Long story short, we failed. Instead of progressively crying for less and less time each day, she ended up crying for longer every day. We only lasted three days before we called it off, primarily because, after the one-hour mark, everybody was ready to bust down the door and pick her up. The problem with doing the CIO method now is that I’m not sure what we are really trying to achieve with it. Supposedly, the goal is for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep – in other words, being less dependent on us to fall asleep. But there are two problems.

  1. She is still swaddled in a Halo sleepsack at night – we keep her arms down because she often moves her hands around and wakes herself up and/or scratches her own face, sometimes clawing at her eyes even. When we tried the CIO without the swaddle, she scratched her face until it was bleeding. So the next night, we swaddled her before putting her down and letting her cry. Which led to the second problem…
  2. Without access to her hands, how can she self-soothe? She usually sucks on a pacifier, but she can also suck on her hands to soothe herself. Without that option, she’s not learning to self-soothe to sleep, she’s just crying until she’s utterly spent and passing out. But even when she stops crying from exhaustion, she’ll sleep for only a few minutes before regaining the energy to cry again. She didn’t really fall asleep.

The third night, after she’d been screaming for well over an hour, we decided to stop doing the CIO method and wait until she’s a little older to continue sleep training. When I went to go pick her up, she immediately stopped crying and broke into a wide grin. GrandmaDumpling says that it was because she knew she had won. We gave in to her crying, so she won. In the battle between us and her, it was 1:0 BabyDumpling.

After we stopped the CIO method, she seemed to be traumatized by it. She used to lie happily in her crib while I told her a bedtime story (part of the bedtime routine we were trying to establish). Now, as soon as we’re anywhere near the crib, she starts crying. It’s like she knows/is afraid that we are going to leave her. Even when I stay by her side, and try to tell her a bedtime story, she’s screaming through the whole thing. Not exactly the routine we are gong for. Moreover, she was sleeping fine through most of the night before we did this, and now she wakes up many times and I have to feed her more often than before. It’s not a growth spurt because she’s not eating more overall, she just seems to be waking more at night. I think the whole thing has just made her more insecure and clingy, which is – ironically – the exact thing we were trying to avoid when we decided to try CIO.

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Taking Baby Steps

Two of the biggest challenges for parents of newborns is feeding and sleeping. Since we have got the feeding part down, our next hill to climb is sleeping.

There is an impressive body of literature on sleep training, and on top of that, everybody and their grandmother has an opinion on the “correct” way to do it. I’m starting to realize that this is the case for everything related to raising a child – an impressive amount of (sometimes contradictory) literature, and everyone who has had a child claims to be an expert on everything.

The problem is that every baby is different, so what works for one baby may not work for another. Any single analogy is, while interesting, relatively useless as a guideline. When taken in aggregate, there are some patterns, averages, and ranges. So, out of these arise a couple theories.

One of the main schools of thought in sleep training is called the Ferber method. In a nutshell, this method is basically putting a baby down while she’s still awake and letting her fall asleep on her own (as opposed to nursing her, picking her up and rocking her, etc. to fall asleep). Even if she cries, you’re not supposed to rush to her aid and pick her up. In the ears of my mother-in-law, this might as well be called the Devil’s method. When we came home from our pediatrician’s office and told her that, with this method “the baby may cry for several hours,” we already knew she was not going to go along with it. No way in hell would she let BabyDumpling cry for several hours. In fact, I don’t think BabyDumpling has ever cried for more than ten minutes without being picked up. Even if GrandmaDumpling had gone to bed and the baby was with us in our room, she would rush in and try to take over soothing BabyDumpling if she heard BabyDumpling crying for too long.

Now, our pediatrician suggested we try this at our one-month visit, which is quite young for sleep training. I don’t think he believed for a minute that we could get it to work on a one-month old. But he probably wanted us to set up good sleeping habits.

I said in my last post that we were already cosleeping with BabyDumpling. Strike number one. GrandmaDumpling would never let BabyDumpling cry for more than ten minutes and would rush in to soothe her. Strike number two.

So this past week, I decided to take baby steps (ha ha) toward developing good sleep habits. I have a couple goals for her 3-month birthday:

  1. Stop cosleeping. Get her used to sleeping in her own crib.
  2. Fall asleep in the crib, rather than in my arms or in GrandmaDumpling’s arms.
  3. Learn the difference between night time “sleep” and day time “naps.” Night time sleep means sleeping for longer stretches, waking up only to feed, no playing when she’s awake, and lower stimulation all around (no music, no storytime, low lighting). Day time naps, on the other hand, should be shorter in duration (1-2 hrs), with a lot more stimulation when she wakes up in-between (talking to her, singing to her, giving her a toy, tummy time, etc.). I have (somewhat arbitrarily) defined night time sleep to be between the hours of 8am and 8pm.
  4. Remove one of the overnight feeds, meaning that 6+ hours should pass between her last night feed (let’s say at 11:30pm) and her first morning feed (let’s say 6am).
  5. Building on #3, sleep through the night. If we remove the feeding session between midnight and 6am, and she doesn’t get any playtime or stimulation during the “night time,” she should be able to sleep through that time.

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One Big Baby

BabyDumpling is now 6 weeks old. At her one-month pediatrician visit, they weighed her and she was 10 lbs. The nurse couldn’t believe his eyes. He looked at her chart, she was only 8.3 lbs the last time she was weighed (at 2 weeks old). “She grew nearly 2 lbs in two weeks? That can’t be right. Let’s weigh her again.” So we stripped her down again and put her on the scale. It read 10 lbs. Still refusing to believe it, he said, “Maybe this scale is broken.” So he took us to a different room and weighed her on a different scale. It still read 10 lbs. “She hasn’t pooped yet,” PapaDumpling offered, as way of explanation for her apparent heaviness. “How much do you think her poop weighs?” I interjected, “Two pounds??”

The nurse finally accepted that BabyDumpling did, in fact, weigh 10 lbs. He said he’d never seen a baby gain 2 lbs in two weeks. She was at the 74th percentile for weight and 86th percentile for head circumference.

So it was confirmed. BabyDumpling is a big baby, with a big head. The pediatrician seemed very pleased. “She’s growing very well,” he said, “You’re out of the danger zone. Feed her when she wants to feed, let her sleep if she wants to sleep. Now you don’t need to worry.” He didn’t seem worried at all – in fact, he didn’t see the need for us to see him any time soon. “See you in a month!” he said as he waved us goodbye.

BabyDumpling has been growing very fast. She’s already outgrown most of her 0-3 month clothes and we’ve started to dress her in 3-6 month baby clothes. Everyone who sees her can’t believe she’s only 6 weeks old. She has gained another 1.5 lbs in the past 2 weeks since her one-month checkup. In addition to being rather large, she can hold her head up on her own, and she’s very responsive. She will follow people and objects with her eyes and clearly seems to be reacting to her environment. She’s now awake for longer stretches and we try to play with her during the day so that she sleeps longer at night. She can sleep for four hours between feedings at night no problem. She doesn’t even wake herself up with the startle reflex (or Moro reflex), which is an involuntary jerking motion in babies that often cause them to wake themselves up while sleeping. Most newborns are swaddled to prevent the startle reflex from waking themselves up, but BabyDumpling never liked to be swaddled. She has the skills of a ninja in terms of wriggling out of any swaddle. Many parents who swaddle start to transition out of the swaddle at three months old, and their babies have to learn not to startle themselves awake. We haven’t been swaddling BabyDumpling since Week 2, she just sleeps with her arms out, and she can still sleep through four, sometimes even five, hours. It makes me think that our six-week old is really like a three-month old.

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BabyDumpling laughing and playing with us

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The Alternate Universe of Being a Parent

I hadn’t meant to go so long without a blog entry, but with the little one’s feeding schedule, and trying to pump and nap in between, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to do anything else. In the blink of an eye, nearly two weeks have passed since BabyDumpling’s one-month birthday.

I feel like I walked through a portal on May 17, 2017. My life since then is so different from my life before that point. And the difference is not like the kind of difference I’ve experienced with other major life events, like graduating from school or moving to a new country. In those instances, even though “everything” changes, all of that is external. In this case, it’s more like “everything” has changed internally, like I have changed into a different person. It’s hard to describe, but I’m sure other moms will know what I’m talking about. Everything that used to seem important no longer seems important. The way I see myself, even the way I see my husband, is different. And although I’m still not used to being called a “mom,” my brain has already rewired itself into a “mom brain.” Maybe not every part of my brain, but a large part.

Here are just a couple of examples of how my perspective has changed that I didn’t expect:

Nakedness. I have no shame for nakedness anymore. It’s like I ate the opposite apple that Adam and Eve ate. More than a dozen people have stared at my vagina in the past two months, and now it no longer seems that “private” of a private part. Not only that but since then, I’ve pretty much walked around with my tits hanging out 80% of my waking hours because of breastfeeding and pumping. I don’t see breasts as sexual objects anymore, I just see them as the thing that produces my baby’s food.

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On Compromise, Womb-Lag, and Explosive Poop

The first few weeks with BabyDumpling have been easier than I expected, other than breastfeeding. She isn’t fussy about drinking formula (I’ve heard some babies can be very picky), and she usually sleeps 3-4 hours (even 5) in between feedings. That’s a long time for a newborn! It’s most likely because we are feeding her formula, and formula takes longer to digest than breastmilk so babies tend to sleep longer between feedings when they are fed formula. Technically, we are not suppose to let her sleep more than 4 hours between feedings because we need to feed her X number of times per day, but when it’s overnight and we’re asleep, she’s the one that lets us know if she’s hungry, so if she doesn’t wake up, we don’t wake up.

Being a new parent is a lesson in compromise. There’s the stuff you learn in the books and from the classes, and then there’s reality. The reality is that you can’t go by the book on everything, even if you know there’s a good reason why such-and-such is the recommended practice.

For example, the number of feedings thing. Everyone tells us newborns need to be fed 8-12+ times a day. That means every 2-3 hours on average. At the same time though, we are also told to feed “on demand” – meaning, instead of going by the clock for when each feeding should happen, we watch BabyDumpling’s cues and she lets us know when she’s hungry. However, if she sleeps longer than 4 hours, there’s almost no way we can get in 8-12 feedings a day. We were feeding her, on average, every 4 hours, which meant she was only getting 6 feedings a day. Of course, there is a possibility of “cluster feeding” – meaning, she wakes up every hour to feed for, let’s say, 3 consecutive hours, and then sleeps for a longer period of time. That’s fine in theory, except our baby didn’t really do that. So we threw out the rulebook on 8-12 feedings and let her tell us when she was hungry. If that meant 6 feedings a day, so be it. She was gaining weight and healthy, so as far as her pediatrician could tell, there was no cause for alarm.

Another example where we “threw out the rulebook,” so to speak, was on bedsharing, the practice of having a baby sleep in the same bed as the adults. Bedsharing is generally frowned upon, as there are many risks for a baby in an adult bed: adults could roll over onto the baby while asleep; the baby could accidentally suffocate under the blanket or pillow; and it is even said they could strangle themselves if their mother has long hair (source). However, there is some indication that bedsharing deaths usually result when there is at least one other independent factor:

[…] Recent studies have shown that most bed-sharing deaths happen when an adult sleeping with a baby has been smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs (illegal or over-the-counter medicines) that make them sleep deeply.

Sometimes people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This can be very dangerous, especially if it happens on a couch/sofa where a baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions.

I recognize that there are good reasons why bedsharing is not as safe as having the baby sleep on her own separate surface, free of distractions like blankets and pillows. We hadn’t originally intended to bedshare, but it has now become an almost nightly occurrence. BabyDumpling refuses to sleep in her own crib, even though we put her crib right next to our bed, and I can reach in and pat her if she starts fussing. But no amount of patting will help if she doesn’t go to sleep in the first place, and she just won’t fall asleep in her own crib. Even if I place her in her crib after she’s fallen asleep on my body, she’ll wake up much sooner than if I put her down on our bed. How she knows the difference I have no idea. There are ways to reduce the risk of bedsharing, such as little bassinets/baby nests that you can place on the bed itself. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it works for us, at least for now.

And that’s the thing. As much as you go in with the intention of doing everything by the book, once you’re raising your own baby, you realize there are some things you do just to keep yourself sane, because you could drive yourself nuts if you tried to do everything by the book.

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Mom Challenge #1: Breastfeeding

Being new parents to a newborn is hard. This may seem like an obvious statement, but the way in which it was hard was surprising for me. It wasn’t the late night feedings and lack of sleep – I had expected that and was prepared to give up sleeping through the night for several months. It wasn’t learning how to calm a crying baby and sometimes being frustrated by not knowing why she’s crying – I know eventually I’ll learn to distinguish her cries and know what’s bothering her, or accept that sometimes she just wants to cry and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it was breastfeeding.

We had gone to breastfeeding classes before she was born, and it was never questioned that we would plan to exclusively breastfeed for as long as we could. Every doctor, nurse, lactation consultant, and source of medical expertise we encountered reiterated the same message, that “breast is best.” And I didn’t doubt that for a minute, I still don’t. But when things didn’t quite go according to plan, it created an immense amount of pressure on me.

The first 24 hours after we were discharged from the hospital, things already started to go wrong. I had been exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) in the hospital and continued to do so at home. For those that are doing EBF, we are told to feed the baby whenever she wants it and for however long she wants to – there is no way to “over-feed” from the breast. So, that’s what I did. I breastfed her 14 times in the first 24 hours we were home. She seemed to be constantly hungry. I had blisters on both nipples, one of my nipples was cracked open and the other one was bleeding. They were in bad shape. Each time she latched onto my nipple brought searing pain. It was so painful I could barely stand it. But I endured it and continued to breastfeed her.

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After the Delivery

A few hours after the delivery, I was moved to a room on the postpartum floor. My legs and feet were still numb from the epidural, so I got to go down in a wheelchair (yay wheelchairs!). It was also for the better that I wasn’t walking around yet, because I felt a little dizzy – perhaps from the blood loss. My vitals were all normal though, and everything that felt wrong during labor/delivery immediately disappeared after the baby came out – my fever was gone, the soreness in my butt muscle was gone, etc.

After I settled into a room on the postpartum floor, PapaDumpling and our parents went to get some food. They must have been worn out from the delivery as well, since everybody was mentally (and sometimes physically) helping me push for the past several hours. The nurse on the postpartum floor was not nearly as good as the one upstairs – after she introduced herself, she didn’t come back for several hours. So, this was the first time I was left alone since I had entered the hospital.

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